Wed October 12, 2011
The Last Descendants Reimagines History
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, or fiction can illuminate truths. Lawrence-based artist Judith Levy collapses the two, and reimagines history in an exhibition called The Last Descendants.
By Laura Spencer
Kansas City, Mo. – Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, or fiction can illuminate truths. Lawrence-based artist Judith Levy collapses the two, and reimagines history in an exhibition called The Last Descendants.
Dark-haired and petite, Judith Levy has always been drawn to secrets, starting with family stories.
"I have to say that when I was a kid, I was an eavesdropper," says Levy.
Scanning the newspaper became a reliable source for her curious mind. And in school, Levy says characters from history became a living, breathing thing for her.
"But my disappointments came when I realized that I had written a glowing report about President Andrew Jackson and later learned - maybe when I was a teenager - that he had tried to almost annihilate the Indians and was responsible for the Trail of Tears," says Levy.
So Levy developed the idea that she needed to question. And art could provide a way of doing that.
In Judith Levy's exhibition at the Charlotte Street Foundation's Paragraph gallery called The Last Descendants, she plays a Barbara Walters-type host ferreting out the truths in family stories, in a mockumentary style, like Waiting for Guffmann. Levy explores the history of fictional characters, like Hansel and Gretel, Huckleberry Finn, and the The Lone Ranger. She says it allows her to delve into real issues.
"Such as in Huckleberry Finn, racism, color. In Hansel and Gretel, famine and later, Nazi ideology and immigration," says Levy. "In the Lone Ranger, the nature of the development of the West and the infusion of Chinese and immigration. And also, the very intense relationship between the Lone Ranger and Tonto."
For the scripted video segments, elaborately constructed family trees with photos, and artifacts, like the Lone Ranger's postcard collection, Levy does a lot of research. But she says there's also an element of entertainment and irreverence, as in this conversation with Hansel and Gretel's descendants, John and Diane.
Fiction, says Levy, has informed her understanding of history. And she quotes historian and journalist Allen Nevins who compared history to a painting: "and, like all works of art, it fails of the highest truth unless imagination and ideas are mixed with the paints."
The exhibition Judith G. Levy: The Last Descendants continues through November 5, 2011 at the Charlotte Street Foundation's Paragraph Gallery, 23 East 12th St., KCMO.
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